Hollow City Book Review

Hollow City: Book of Karma book 1
by Cheah Kit Sun
Published by Silver Empire (2019)

Hollow City is the second book in the Heroes Unleashed universe I have reviewed. I picked up this copy on my own, so you can’t blame the author for my opinions.

My opinion is: I like this book. Adam Song is a fascinating character, and I’ll delve into why at some length. Adam’s interests and profession also make this book a kind of gun pr0n, which is fun for me since I am also interested in firearms. Finally, I am enjoying the Heroes Unleashed take on superheroes, which doesn’t make them mundane, but at least routine. Not everyone has super powers, but you better take the possibility into account when making any kind of serious plan.

I doubt this review would pass a strict spoiler policy, but I’ll try to keep it under control. Consider yourself warned.

Let’s get into why I find Adam so interesting. Adam Song is a cop. Not just any cop, but a member of the elite Special Tactics and Rescue team. He is a doorkicker, a life-taker, and a heart-breaker. Well, probably not the last, now that I think about it. In so far as Adam has killed an average of one person a year in the course of his duties with the Hollow City Police Department, he definitely qualifies as a life-taker. But he lacks the dark triad traits that make murderers and terrorists the recipients of gushing fan mail in prison. If anyone’s heart is going to be broken, it is probably Adam’s.

Adam also has a secret. He is a Prime, the Heroes Unleashed version of a superhero. His powers are precisely what elevated him to the STAR unit. At the beginning of Hollow City, Adam has been a cop for six years, but a member of STAR for only eighteen months. Which just happens to coincide with the time since he gained his powers. This is because STAR, like Detroit SWAT, specializes in no-knock raids. But in Hollow City, unlike Detroit, the guy on the other side might have superpowers too, so HCPD makes sure to even the odds by having a Prime on the entry team. In that capacity, he goes by his codename Amp, and wears a mask when he is working.

Knock knock.

Knock knock.

Many men in Adam’s position would probably be insufferably arrogant, but Adam strikes me as a quiet, unassuming type. In part, this is a matter of self-protection, since his public persona would be liable to reprisals if his enemies knew where he lived, but also I get the feeling Adam would have acted the same way in public if there were no danger. His primary motivation is not fame or money, but duty.

His dutifulness is the prime hinge of his character, and the source of the two major conflicts Adam experiences in the book. In each case, he feels duty-bound to do two-incompatible things. In a sense, his life [and this book] is a quest to reconcile these moral imperatives.

First, Adam is first-generation Chinese immigrant. His parents brought him to America when he was thirteen, by way of Singapore and Hong Kong. He was old enough to remember his previous life, but also young enough to imprint on his new home. His parents have definite ideas about what constitutes honest employment, and neither his previous job [Marine] nor his current job [Cop], meet that definition. In the straightforward expectation of his culture, duty would require him to follow his parent’s wishes, and work in the family business.

Aaron and I were outsiders. Always had been, always were. In Singapore, primary schoolers made fun of our funny accents and weird speech patterns. In Halo City high schoolers did the same. Everywhere we went, the old rules no longer applied. We had to learn quickly, adapt even faster.

Aaron kept his head down, submerged himself into the local Chinese community, and followed in Father’s footsteps. I almost did the same, until I saw my first USMC recruiting advertisement. In the Marines, I saw a way to become a man. I wanted to prove that I was an American, more American than everyone else.

In America, duty primarily means service to the nation, rather than the family. So when Adam decides that he wants to be a good American, he does the thing that is expected of him as an American. He travels to distant lands, meets interesting people, and kills them.

This decision flows into his second conflict, which is secondary to his character, but primary to the plot. After Adam gets out of the Marines, his duty to the nation fulfilled, he naturally flows down to the next lower level of loyalty, and joins the Halo City Police Department. In America, the basic motto of any police department is To Protect and to Serve. It just happens that Adam is really really good at protecting the public by shooting bad guys in the face.

Which is exactly what he is hired to do once he becomes a Prime. Adam’s history with the HCPD prior to the STAR unit is a bit less explored in the book, but we do know that Adam was the trigger puller in more than one OIS [officer involved shooting] before he joined the high risk STAR unit. It is possible that this was overlooked in the overwhelming need to put an already employed Prime officer into the high risk STAR unit, but I suspect it is more likely that this was seen as a feature and not a bug.

At least until he became a political liability by killing an admittedly dangerous man [a Prime with the ability to shoot anything he pointed at] who was also the son of a gangster in the process of crossing the line between crime lord and pillar of the community. When Adam was in the Marines, this was his job, full stop. You killed anyone who was dangerous, and you did so in a way that maximized your odds of coming home at the end of the day. This is uncomplicated when you can identify your targets as enemy combatants, and potentially explosive then they are American citizens who are innocent until proven guilty.

In this way, Adam serves as the personification of the militarization of the police in the United States. The actual military is famously forbidden from engaging in police activities by the Posse Comitatus Act, but there is a creeping influence which can probably be measured by looking the kind of uniforms police officers wear, as can be seen by the image above of a no-knock raid training exercise. The fear is that the distinction between accused or suspected criminals and open enemies of the state is being erased.

There is also a positive sense, insofar as the militarization of the police has coincided with a professionalization of the police. Cops used to do pretty much any damn thing they felt like. Now, there is at least a standard to which they are expected to adhere. At the best, this means less chance of death for both the cop and the perp, insofar as options are sought that seek to maximize that outcome.

Adam Song occupies the ground precisely where that question comes into play. A question that is interesting to me is where does the line lie for police work as opposed to war? When is it acceptable to kill a man who might be a danger to public order? Or who is definitely dangerous, but not currently in the act of shooting his victims? For a soldier, that question is relatively simple. You act with maximum force at the first opportunity. For a police officer, the answer is always NO, you cannot kill except when your life or the life of another is directly at risk, or at least that is the moral and legal presumption in our society. What makes this hard is that a lot of former soldiers eventually find themselves in service as cops. Men just like Adam Song.

For Adam Song, what makes a strait-laced cop go rogue is the feeling of betrayal when your superiors throw you to the wolves for doing precisely what they hired you to do. Adam’s job, as Amp, the HCPD Prime, is to serve the warrants on dangerous Primes that would otherwise simply kill all of the arresting officers and then disappear.

This gets even more complicated when your job is to arrest the bad guys that are widely known to be bad, but who of course enjoy the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. When you mix in Halo City’s high-diversity, low-trust environment, along with a dash of corruption, you get a lot of guys like Adam, who start to feel that the military way has its attractions. Adam clearly loves his city, but he also feels like there are good guys, and bad guys, and he isn’t particularly interested in watching the bad guys take advantage of a system that was designed for a high-trust environment.

Since I happened to read Hollow City at about the same time I read Timothy Zahn’s Dragonback series, I was struck by the differing trajectories the main characters in these books take. Jack Morgan starts as an outlaw, and over the course of the series eventually is reconciled to polite society. Adam Song starts out as a respected member of the community, and ends up becoming exactly what his detractors call him: a rogue cop, a vigilante, and a criminal defendant.

However, in many respects, what each of them do isn’t actually that different. Jack mostly tries to avoid killing, but his symbiont Draycos, the K’da warrior-poet who possesses the rights of judge, jury, and executioner in one person, kills a man in the first book because Draycos seems him commit a murder. This can only loosely be called defense of another, since the man was threatening Jack, but the book makes it clear that Draycos is like a monster of legend, as much greater in combat power than a human as a powerful Prime like Amp is. Also, Jack’s AI guardian, Uncle Virge, does lots of killing, it is just the kind where he shoots down other ships to protect Jack.

Once I realized that, my whole opinion of the weight of the Dragonback series started to shift. There are some real similarities, but also some real differences with Adam Song’s Halo City. Jack Morgan’s universe is a lot further down the path of societal dissolution that Halo City is only starting to tread. Is Adam’s vigilantism worth it if it prevents open slavery and corporations hiring mercenaries to fight literal turf battles over their commercial interests?

Even if we temporarily ignore the question of how probable the odds of success are for Adam’s attempt to stave off further dissolution, this is a worthy question. In the moral and legal framework of the United States, which is clearly the setting of Halo City, which I take to be an analogue of Los Angeles, Adam is pretty clearly beyond the pale. However, the reason I bring in Zahn’s more speculative universe here is that other arrangements that still seem just are imaginable.

Adam is pretty clearly doing what he finds to be his duty, in the circumstances he finds himself. We might judge that he has nonetheless crossed a line that should not be crossed, even if the results are otherwise just. That tension is exactly what makes this book fascinating. I don’t know what Cheah has in mind for Adam after this, but I would like to find out.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books in the Heroes Unleashed series

by Morgon Newquist

Heroes Fall: Serenity City book 1

Dragon and Herdsman Book Review

Dragon and Herdsman: Dragonback book 4
by Timothy Zahn
304 pages
Published by Open Road Media Sci-Fi & Fantasy (March 27, 2018) in a set with volumes 5 and 6
ASIN B079N6ZHPG

Fourteen year old boys still don’t make good plans. After escaping from the Brummgan slavers, the Chookook family, with a healthy dose of good fortune, Jack infiltrates another mercenary organization in order to steal their files. This time, Jack and Draycos know where to look because of an act of mercy that Draycos insisted upon back in Volume 1: Draycos took a few seconds to prop up a man he had disabled so that the mercenary wouldn’t burn to death upon the ground heated by the crash of his ship.

In doing so, Draycos instantiates something very much like the jus ad bello criteria of the Catholic Church that govern just conduct in war.

What Catholic military doctrine does resemble is the criteria that well-run civilian police forces articulate regarding the use of deadly force. As the nightly television news will tell you, rules of this sort often work imperfectly. However, they do make sense for any law-governed society in which the authorities, too, can be held responsible for their actions.

So far as I know, Zahn isn’t Catholic. I guess that he simply used medieval chivalric ideal as an example for Draycos, and in some typically thorough research, brought this along for the ride. What I can’t even begin to guess is whether he developed it into a more modern rendition on his own, or if he used another source.

Reading something like The Song of Roland with the eyes of an early twenty-first century American, it is hard to avoid the impression that Roland is a bit of a chump. Roland’s last stand is certainly dramatic, but he could have blown that horn earlier and saved everyone a lot of trouble. But his knightly honor wouldn’t let him call for help carelessly. To do so would be to admit weakness, which would shame him in the eyes of his peers. Roland is mostly concerned with defending his honor, defined as mutual respect among a society of equals [warriors]. If your peers don’t see or recognize this kind of honor, it very much doesn’t truly exist.

Draycos’ ideas of honor on the other hand, are a little more practical than Roland’s. Draycos is perfectly willing to retreat without shame in the face of a superior force, or seek to avoid combat when defeat is more likely than victory. He is, on the other hand, is acutely interested in defending abstract ideals, even when no one is looking, even when it actively works against his obvious interests. This is guilt culture, rather than shame culture, in the context of war. In the Christian West, chivalry was one of the stages by which shame cultures with a warlike bent turned into guilt cultures with an interest in defending the weak and defenseless, even when they mean you harm.

In the twelve or so centuries since Hruodland, captain of the Breton Marches, made a last stand that was told for a thousand years, Catholic thinking on war has tended toward a police model, where minimum force is used to achieve the objective at hand. This is very much the model Draycos uses, except that in his culture, he personally combines the prerogatives of judge and jury and executioner in one, which is a bit unsettling to Jack, and probably would be to most of Zahn’s readers, modern Westerners, who are accustomed to a separation of powers model.

Battle of Palatea  Edmund Ollier  Publication date 1882 [Public domain]

Battle of Palatea

Edmund Ollier

Publication date 1882 [Public domain]

However, Western thinking on war by those who actively practice it doesn’t necessary track well with the development of Catholic Just War doctrine. Victor Davis Hanson made the argument that going back to the Classical Greeks, the Western way of war was to seek decisive battle which destroyed the enemy [or at least his ability to fight]. What this looks like shouldn’t be at all unfamiliar to any educated Westerner, because it is how we [the Allies] waged World War II.

THE WAR MY GRANDFATHERS WAGED  BY ENGLISH: ISHIKAWA KŌYŌ - 写真のアップローダが出典を示していないのでどこからこの写真を持ってきたのか不明だが、該当写真は1953年8月15日発行の「東京大空襲秘録写真集」(雄鶏社刊)の12, 13ページに「道路一杯に横たわる焼死体、誰とも知れぬ一片の灰のかたまりにすぎないが…」のキャプション付きで掲載されているので著作権問題はクリアされている。, PUBLIC DOMAIN,  HTTPS://COMMONS.WIKIMEDIA.ORG/W/INDEX.PHP?CURID=3681456

THE WAR MY GRANDFATHERS WAGED

BY ENGLISH: ISHIKAWA KŌYŌ - 写真のアップローダが出典を示していないのでどこからこの写真を持ってきたのか不明だが、該当写真は1953年8月15日発行の「東京大空襲秘録写真集」(雄鶏社刊)の12, 13ページに「道路一杯に横たわる焼死体、誰とも知れぬ一片の灰のかたまりにすぎないが…」のキャプション付きで掲載されているので著作権問題はクリアされている。, PUBLIC DOMAIN,

HTTPS://COMMONS.WIKIMEDIA.ORG/W/INDEX.PHP?CURID=3681456

We crushed our enemies, until they had no recourse. We burned their cities, without remorse. I’m not talking about nuclear weapons either, which don’t actually rise to the level of the enormity I am talking about. This was what Jerry Pournelle called WARRE. Warre to the knife, fire bombs, nuclear weapons, death and destruction. I am not sure that Hanson made his argument in quite the way he meant to, but I think it is true that the West has a tendency to do this.

Draycos, despite being on the losing end of an interstellar war, is too high minded to embrace the scorched earth tactics of his enemies. Even though that war involved the death of something like 90-95% of his people. We were not so generous to our enemies.

That highmindedness is put to the test here, in Dragon and Herdsman, when Jack and Draycos, fleeing from angry mercs who caught them in the act, stumble upon a colony of Draycos’ people on a remote world. Except, they aren’t really his people, in the cultural sense. These phooka are physically the same as Draycos, but in isolation, they have regressed to a state of mute inactivity, unable to speak, and ignorant of the proud glories of K’da history.

Draycos is stunned and appalled to find his brethren reduced to such a state. Draycos’ sense of honor, like cast iron, can be strong, but also brittle. It is especially endangered when a core assumption, like the inherent nobility of his people, is undermined. Fortunately, Jack’s more pragmatic [self-serving even] sense of ethics provides cushion and flexibility in the same way that a blade can be made more durable by combining hard steel for the edge with mild steel for the spine, taking the best properties of both.

For Jack and Draycos, the process by which this works is not simply conversation and time. They are each becoming more like one another, so much so that Jack is starting to have some of Draycos’ warrior’s spirit [and tactical knowledge], while Draycos now has the resiliency born of living life in the shadows. The phooka are likewise slow of body and of mind because the hosts they found on remote Rho Scorvi are dimwitted and indolent.

There is something special about Jack and Draycos, and in some way their meeting was providential. And now we have another piece of the puzzle as to why this might be.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books by Timothy Zahn

New Thrawn series:
Thrawn
Thrawn: Alliances

Quadrail series:
Night Train to Rigel: Quadrail book 1 review
The Third Lynx: Quadrail book 2 review
Odd Girl Out: Quadrail book 3 review
The Domino Pattern: Quadrail book 4 review
Judgement at Proteus: Quadrail book 5 review

Soulminder

Original Thrawn Trilogy:
Heir to the Empire
Dark Force Rising
The Last Command

Blackcollar series:
The Blackcollar: Blackcollar series book 1 review
The Backlash Mission: Blackcollar series book 2 review

Dragonback series:
Dragon and Thief
Dragon and Soldier
Dragon and Slave

Starcraft: Evolution

Cascade Point and Other Stories

Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7 Book Review

Turning Point: Galaxy's Edge #7
by Jason Anspach and Nick Cole
Kindle Edition, 374 pages
Published February 23th 2018 by Galaxy's Edge
ASIN B079NGCX1T

Turning Point is an ugly book. It is ugly, because war is ugly. And this is warre, war to the knife. Firebombs, orbital strikes, death and destruction.

The war my grandfathers waged  By English: Ishikawa Kōyō - 写真のアップローダが出典を示していないのでどこからこの写真を持ってきたのか不明だが、該当写真は1953年8月15日発行の「東京大空襲秘録写真集」(雄鶏社刊)の12, 13ページに「道路一杯に横たわる焼死体、誰とも知れぬ一片の灰のかたまりにすぎないが…」のキャプション付きで掲載されているので著作権問題はクリアされている。, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3681456

The war my grandfathers waged

By English: Ishikawa Kōyō - 写真のアップローダが出典を示していないのでどこからこの写真を持ってきたのか不明だが、該当写真は1953年8月15日発行の「東京大空襲秘録写真集」(雄鶏社刊)の12, 13ページに「道路一杯に横たわる焼死体、誰とも知れぬ一片の灰のかたまりにすぎないが…」のキャプション付きで掲載されているので著作権問題はクリアされている。, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3681456

In theory, when statesmanship and diplomacy and the just use of force have been applied prudently, none of this is necessary. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. And then, when good men find their back against the wall, they will do things that are more horrible than even they could have imagined they would do, if you had asked them before the deed was done.

This is also a book about divided loyalties. In the self-image of the Legion, they are loyal servants of the Republic. In practice, the oligarchs of the Republic use them and hate them, and the Legion returns that hate in spades. The Legion is already divided against itself, and against its masters, but truly, the split runs deeper than that. 

The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every leeje, with the result that brother will turn upon brother, and the galaxy will burn. There are hints that something far worse than venial and self-serving politicians, even worse than Goth Sullus, tyrant holdfast, is lurking in the darkness. Yet, I still have hope, hope that the worst can yet be avoided, even if we don't quite know what that could be.

My other book reviews

Legionnaire: Galaxy's Edge #1 book review

Galactic Outlaws: Galaxy's Edge #2 book review

Kill Team: Galaxy's Edge #3 book review

Attack of Shadows: Galaxy's Edge #4 book review

Sword of the Legion: Galaxy's Edge #5 Book Review

Tin Man: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Prisoners of Darkness: Galaxy's Edge #6 Book Review

Imperator: Galaxy's Edge Book Review

Turning Point (Galaxy's Edge Book 7)
By Jason Anspach, Nick Cole

The Long View 2006-04-18: Conspiracy Unmasked!

French philisopher Réne Guénon in 1925   By Unknown - cafeexpose.files.wordpress.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5515108

French philisopher Réne Guénon in 1925

By Unknown - cafeexpose.files.wordpress.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5515108

A few years ago, there was a movement on the fringes that called itself neo-reaction, or a variety of other things. This used to be the only places I ran into people who knew who Evola or Guénon were. I used to be amused when it was asserted C. S. Lewis and Tolkien and Chesterton were part of Tradition. Not everything they said was crazy, even if a lot of it was.

It was the non-movement Conservatives in the United States [those who were on the Right in one way or another, but estranged from the Reaganesque fusionism that blended the Religious Right with high finance and Chamber of Commerce types and a gloss of libertarians]. In the end, they were infiltrated by neo-Nazis and white nationalists, and eventually became the alt-right. Lots of people were disgusted and annoyed by this usurpation, and dropped out, ensuring that the alt-right would never have anything like the potential to be a mass-movement.

At this point I suspect the real win for Tradition, in the United States at least, would be on the Left. There is less white space than you might think between the radical Left and Tradition. Frances Parker Yockey worked for the Soviets, for example. There is also better message discipline and better organization on the Left at this point. A successful takeover could spread like a seed crystal in a super-saturated solution. Then you'd see what crazy really looked like.

How's that for horseshoe theory?

[fun note, the photo Réne Guénon in 1925 puts him at the same age as me right now]


Conspiracy Unmasked!

 

Well, maybe not conspiracy, since none of the information is secret, but there do seem to be certain anomalies in the provenance of Neo-Conned!: Just War Principles: A Condemnation of War in Iraq, a widely-praised anthology that was edited by John Forrest Sharpe and D. Liam O'Huallachain (otherwise known as Derek Holland) and published by the IHS Press. (Sharpe is the director of IHS.) The matter is of immediate concern, perhaps, only to the most conservative variety of Catholic. I did not run across it through the Catholic connection, but from the other end, through my continuing study of post-1989 anti-Americanism and the role played in it by esoteric fascism and the (often covert) influence of Guenonian Tradition. We must note that the contributors to the Neo-Conned! books (there is a sequel) cover a wide range of political and theological perspectives and cannot be held responsible for the views of their editors. Nonetheless, ordinary paleoconservatives who cite or recommend the books should consider that its publisher seems to have an agenda of which few Americans of any political persuasion would approve.

Before I begin, let me offer a hat-tip to Matthew Anger at Fringe Watcher and Christopher Blosser at Spero News. The most comprehensive treatment is at Against the Grain.

As readers no doubt know, The Society of Pius X is a schismatic group that thinks itself quite literally more Catholic than the pope, though it is currently in negotiations with the Vatican for a form of reconciliation that would allow it to keep the old Latin liturgy. The LeFloche Report is sympathetic to the Society of Pius X, but notes a strange ideological infiltration:

For years, many Catholics have been disturbed by the emergence of strange and novel ideas in their chapels. Among these are; the belief that one must move out of the city to a farm in order to live an integral Catholic life, that all forms of modern technology are intrinsically evil and must be avoided, that women are not to obtain a higher education, and that the total breakdown of civil society is to be wished for in order to bring about the emergence of a new Distributist economic order.

Tradition (or as the LeFloche Report prefers, Perennialism) is an apocalyptic doctrine which holds that the modern world is disintegrating because of its rejection of the link with the transcendent that is the organizing principle of human societies. The notion that society requires a transcendent dimension is not a very alarming idea. Tradition can be scary, however. Sometimes this knowledge of the inevitable collapse of the modern world inspires nothing more than the formation of groups of adepts who hope to manage the transition when civilization collapses. Sometimes, however, Tradition has sparked the creation of anarchist political groups that hope to accelerate the collapse.

The latter seems to have been the case with one of the editors of Neo-Conned!, Derek Holland, whose theory of the political soldier was an adaptation of the esoteric existentialism of the fascist ideologue, Julius Evola. Holland was involved in fascist circles in Britain during the breakup of the old National Front. He was among the founders of a new tendency, the International Third Position (ITP), which sought to bring British fascism more in line with Continental neofascism.

One of the features of political Tradition has been the search for a school of the transcendent that could serve as the organizing principle of a new society. Theoretically, any of the great religious traditions might serve. In practice, though, Traditionalists have usually chosen a radical version of Islam or some kind of neopaganism; some became Satanists.

The neopagan tendency strongly criticized the International Third Position, as we see in the Official Statement on the International Third Position Issued by the National Revolutionary Faction. One of the complaints is that ITP extended too much sympathy to antiquated reactionaries like Franco and Petain. Another was that the ITP seemed to be distancing itself from the rest of the anarchist movement. What most annoyed fellow fascists, however, was that the ITP seemed to be becoming a Latin Mass group with a "small is beautiful" economic agenda. (The latter is the "Distributism" mentioned in the Le Floche report: essentially a proposal, once favored by G.K. Chesterton, to replace capitalism with a society of small-holders.)

There have long been religious people who are "traditional" in both the colloquial and the esoteric sense of the word. However, as we have seen, Christian Tradition is rare. The attempt by the ITP and related groups to make it a major force is interesting because that is the road that founder of Tradition, Rene Guenon, considered in the early 20th century but did not take. His theory of spirituality held that the transcendent could be accessed only through one of the great, historical, religious traditions, because they each included a rite of "initiation," a rite reserved for the elect. After exploring Catholicism for many years, Guenon eventually concluded that Christianity had once had a method of valid initiation but had probably lost it. So, he turned to Islam and Sufism, but did not exclude the possibility that Christian Tradition might be possible.

Guenon's disciple, Evola, broke with Christianity far more decisively. He also politicized Tradition to a novel degree. Evolan Tradition became, in large measure, a generations-long insurgency against the liberal, democratic, capitalist West. Indeed, it became an international insurgency against the United States, as the exemplar and central pillar of the modern world that was characterized by these great evils. Though Evola himself was a man of the Right, his disciples frequently embraced some form of "national socialism." They sometimes worked with the Soviet Union, when that was an option. Now they work with Russian "Eurasianists." The consolidation of the European Union, however, revived the hopes of the pan-European Traditionalists. The ITP is one example of this tendency, and the Neo-Conned! books seem to be another.

There are reasons for objecting to the Iraq War, or to the principles of American foreign policy; there are even reasons for disliking the United States. However, we should be aware that, running through the flow of ordinary politics that deals with these questions, there is a dark thread of something far more sinister, a tendency that seeks defeat for the United States, not because of anything the US has done or plans to do, but simply as a predicate to a universal chaos that the tendency seeks for its own purposes.

And you thought you were worried before.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The Forge of Christendom

Cricketer, historian, and author Tom Holland is here a proponent of the thesis that one of the things that truly differentiates the Christian West, Christendom, is the separation of powers between church and state that gradually evolved out of a fight over who was allowed to nominate bishops.

However, Holland also takes millennialism seriously, which adds a layer of interest for me. For many, it is one of those things that are just not mentioned in polite company. John also mentions here [I think elsewhere too, but I can't find it at present] the idea that Eastern Christianity never really developed the idea of just war. I find the idea intriguing, but I don't know the field well enough to confirm or deny. It is certainly plausible, with the relative unpopularity of Augustine in the Greek-speaking East, but on the other hand, Justinian also sent Belisarius to recover territory lost to Germanic barbarians. On the gripping hand, no one in the Roman empire after Belisarius managed to emulate his military successes.


The Forge of Christendom:
The End of Days and the Epic Rise of the West

By Tom Holland
Doubleday, 2009
512 pages, US$30.00
ISBN-10: 0385520581
ISBN-13: 978-0385520584
(2008 British Edition: Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom)

 

The West has deep roots, reaching down past the Roman Republic to the level where Hellas differentiated itself from the societies of the Near East. Tom Holland, armed with an Oxford doctorate and a rolling prose style that the best Victorians might envy, has already written well-received popular histories on those subjects. (He also does vampire fiction.) Despite the West's continuities with antiquity, however, it's beginning in anything like the sense we mean it today was notoriously discontinuous. In the generation to either side of the year 1000, a new system booted that was clearly distinguishable from its Islamic neighbor and even from its sometime ally in Constantinople. In the author's telling, the first great characteristic act of the young West came at Canossa in 1077, when Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV conceded to Pope Gregory VII a right beyond the power of the state (the right to nominate bishops) in the Investiture Crisis. The concession was only temporary, and Gregory died in frustrated exile, but the pope's point stuck. Thereafter, the political and religious were recognized as different spheres with enforceable borders; the beginning of all civil liberties. This was something new in the world, but it was not the only novelty of the new society.

The two centuries that the book covers in detail, the 10th and the 11th, are among those stretches of history that make almost novelistic sense. The plot is driven by fear of the imminence of Antichrist and the hope for the Parousia.

The question of millennial expectation connected with the year 1000, whether that fear was important or even whether it existed at all, is one of those historiographical controversies that are prone to coup and counter-coup. 19th-century Romantic historians painted a dramatic and, well, Romantic picture of popular enthusiasm and even frenzy. The Romantics' successors, sometimes exaggerating what their predecessors had actually claimed, said the “terrors of the Year 1000” were a 19th-century myth and that the change of the millennium was little regarded at the time. Late in the 20th century, the American medievalist Richard Landes reopened the question (disclosure: I the reviewer am a member of his Center for Millennial Studies). His assessment informs Holland's book.

There was no revolutionary millenarianism around the year 1000 like that which occurred in late medieval or early modern times, Landes noted, but the fact is that the intellectual and political life of those generations was suffused by the preparation for a new age, impelled by a mood of expectation that had both a popular and an elite dimension. There was quite a bit of interest in the year 1000 itself. (Yes, people did know when it was: the information was available in every set of tables showing the dates for Easter.) There was at least as much interest in the year 1033, however, the millennial anniversary of Christ's Passion. One could argue that the West was actually born in the intervening years.

The term “postmillennialism” does not occur in this book, but something very similar to that doctrine was at work in the 11th century. Postmillennialism posits that Christ will return at the end of the Millennium; the millennial age itself, then, is a historical period during which human effort will perfect the world in preparation for that event. Postmillennialism was closely connected with the progressive, reformist Social Gospel that underlay much of the politics of the early 20th century. The idea of historical progress is really just a politely secularized version of postmillennial eschatology.

Medieval eschatology was different in detail but not in effect. St. Augustine in the fifth century (when the world did indeed seem to be ending, by any reasonable measure) had cautioned against the idea of a literal millennium as a period of historical felicity lasting 1000 years, though the Book of Revelation does mention a thousand-year reign of the Saints. He also cautioned against the temptation to apply information in the Bible to historical events in order to calculate precisely when the Second Coming would occur. He did, however, suggest that the reference in the Book of Revelation to a “millennium” could be taken as an allusion to an age of indefinite duration following the establishment of the Church by Christ that will end with his Second Coming.

In the tenth century, the condition of Western Christendom was dire enough to suggest that maybe the end was near and the 1000 years should be taken literally after all. In that century and the eleventh, sophisticated clerics tended to vehemently deny the possibility of predicting the End Time using calculations drawn from the Bible, all the while assuming a near-term eschaton in their worldview and planning.

The imminence of Doomsday had practical implications for medievals. Before the advent of Antichrist set the dramatic machinery of Revelation in motion, the world must first be evangelized and set to rights. This implied the revival or restoration of the Roman Empire in Christian form; even before Constantine, Christians had come to regard the Empire as “the Restrainer” of Second Thessalonians, the power in the world whose presence prevented the eruption of the worst historical evils, and whose final withdrawal would mean the end of the age. In the Byzantine Empire, where Rome never entirely fell, the hope for a penultimate age of peace became centered on the figure of the Emperor of the Last Days. He would restore the ancient empire and end his career by laying down his crown at Jerusalem, thereby marking the beginning of the end. This idea was easily transferable to the West, particularly after Charlemagne revived the imperial title in 800. (That was another possible date for the beginning of the endtime, by the way, arrived at through another set of calculations based on the seven-millennium model of history.)

We should recall that there is little institutional continuity between the Carolingian Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. The last Carolingian “emperor” died in 905, long after anything resembling an empire had lapsed. The title was revived in 962 by Otto I, who had won the Battle of the Lech against the then-pagan Hungarians in 955. Both events were part of a process that solidified the idea of a German identity. Not incidentally, the battle also ended one of the several existential threats to the still inchoate West that were defeated in the decades before 1000.

The author emphasizes that Christendom was born in a near-death experience. The measure of security that Charlemagne had been able to bring to Europe scarcely survived him. From the east came Slavs and Hungarians. In the south were the Muslims: Sicily was an emirate for much of the period covered by this book, and corsairs sacked St. Peter's in Rome as late as 846. In the north and on all the coasts there were the Vikings, and in France there were the French.

“France,” “French,” “Germany,” “German”: all are anachronistic terms for this period, the author reminds us. “East Francia” and “West Francia” are better. Be that as it may, one of the themes of the ninth and tenth centuries was the trend among the elites in what would become France toward pure predation. In most of Europe, castles were usually places of refuge or barriers against barbarian invasion. In France, they were often prison towers to facilitate the plundering of the population and attacks against the bandit lords in the neighboring castles.

In such a situation, anyone who could impose legitimate order was clearly doing God's will, even if violence was necessary to do it. When bishops consecrated German kings, they left no doubt that one of their duties was to defend their people from their appalling enemies. The papacy began a practice of endorsing campaigns in Italy and Spain for the defense of Christian polities. The practice would evolve into the theory of the crusade.

This was in marked contrast to the Byzantine Empire, a church-state that regarded war as the greatest of evils. The Orthodox Church never developed an analogue of the theory of the Just War. The state favored defensive fortress warfare and acute diplomacy to solve its problems. Despite the contempt this posture often inspired in the Latin West, it worked at least as well against the Muslims as the Western preference for the offensive. At any rate, it did until the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, when a fresh invasion of Turks caused the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in Anatolia. That defeat set the events in train that would lead to the request for help from Constantinople to the West that sparked the First Crusade. The book ends with the capture of Jerusalem in 1099.

On the level of diplomacy and military affairs, the elites of the West were often sidetracked by impractical schemes of universal empire. They did nation-building, but by accident; what really interested them was universal empire, always with an eschatological dimension. That dimension was no less present in the reform of civil life, however, and usually to better effect.

Any outburst of disorder was regarded by medievals as a precursor of Antichrist, or at least a type. The violence of the lawless aristocracy of the West was just as evil and intolerable as the depredations of the Hungarians, and just as much a sign of the endtime. The remedy in this context was not counter-violence, but holy example, particularly holy example as set by the most innovative monasteries. The most important monastery of all, perhaps as important for the reform of the West as the papacy itself, was the monastery at Cluny, founded in 910:

Earlier generations of monks, following the prescriptions of their rule, had devoted themselves to manual labour, so as to display humility, and to scholarship, so as to train their souls; but the monks of Cluny had little time for either activity. Instead, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, they sang the praises of the Lord: for this, in heaven, was what the choirs of angels did. Indeed, on one occasion, it was claimed, a monk had ended up so lost in his devotions that he had actually begun to levitate. Prayers and hymns, anthems and responses: the chanting never stopped. [Abbot] Odo had required his brethren to recite one hundred and thirty-eight psalms a day: more than three times what had traditionally been expected of a monk. Barely a minute of a Cluniac's life went by, in short, but it was governed by ritual, as unwearying as it was implacable. Hence, for its admirers, the monastery's unprecedented nimbus of holiness: "for so reverently are the masses performed there,” as Rudolf Galber put it, “so piously and worthily, that you would think them the work, not of men, but of angels indeed.”

Cluny, at least in this telling, was Shangri-La, but a Shangri-La that succeeded in projecting its inner peace onto much of the outer world. The monastery was an important element in organizing the Peace of God Movement, under which the armored aristocracy swore before bishops and huge assemblies of peasants to respect the lives and property of the general population. The movement went on for decades, and as the author notes, it implied the formalization of a social structure based on the private appropriation of what had once been common property. Nonetheless, the commoners apparently believed that even an unequal law was better than no law. The Peace of God was not the Millennial Kingdom, but it was regarded as a preparation for that no longer distant prospect. As it ran its course, everywhere the cathedrals were built, and the landscape took on the look of ordered settlement.

Meanwhile, the borders of Christendom were expanding through missionary effort. The author plainly admires St. Adalbert, who left important posts at Magdeburg and Rome to die a martyr in 997 in the evangelization of the east. The conversion of the rulers of the Scandinavians and the Normans (and of the Russians, for that matter) seems to have been marked by a fair amount of Realpolitik. They had a lively sense that a Christian king or duke had far more legitimacy than even the most successful tribal plunderer. These accessions left the heartlands of Christendom more secure. Nonetheless, they too were evidence that the end was near, since the end could come only after the remotest parts of the world had heard the Gospel. Surely newly Christian Iceland was as remote was it was possible to be?

Much of the book's attention is given to Spain, where the famously wealthy and sophisticated Caliphate of al-Andalus made one last drive against Christian Leon before imploding from its own internal divisions. The recapture by Christian forces of the ancient Visigothic holy city of Toledo put the strategic position of Moorish Spain past remedy.

Fatimid Egypt also comes into the picture. Caliph al-Hakim entertained eschatological notions, in his case centered on himself. His destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem in 1009 simultaneously appalled the West and confirmed its view that the climax of history could not be far off. (Latterly, in some tellings, he joined the ranks of Hidden Imams; he is still venerated or worshipped by the Druze, depending on whom you ask.)

Though the West still interacted with Islam and with the Byzantine Empire in important ways, by some point in the 11th century it had become an “intelligible unit” in Toynbee's sense of “civilization,” a society with a story that can be understood only on its own terms.

The author allows the text to reflect the sources, usually to good effect. If someone said they saw a dragon, then they saw a dragon; why argue about it, since the dragon is rarely the point of the story? When the author wants to be critical, he lays on the solemnity a bit too thick, which is actually a very medieval thing to do. The downside of this approach is that the text glides over points that are controverted. It is also economical of explanatory digressions. Still, any reader who does not know about the filioque clause will no doubt find everything he needs in the substantial bibliography and large number of footnotes. This book is a delight to read.

Copyright © 2009 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View: The West's Last Chance

In the years immediately after 9/11, ideas like the ones advanced by Tony Blankley in the the book under review were widely discussed. However, over time, people gradually lost interest in this kind of thing. 

I find this fascinating. Some of the things Blankley advocated, such as a surveillance state, have come to pass. On the other hand, most Western nations have persisted in maintaining traditions of tolerance and openness, despite more than ten years of bombings, shootings, stabbings, and vehicular mayhem directed against the West and its people by Islamist terrorists.

In a sad way, this has simply become normal. But perhaps that isn't the worst thing that could have happened. Blankley advocated prosecuting the War on Terror with the ruthlessness of the Second World War. As a reminder of what that really looked like, the Allies had a policy of intentionally targeting civilians in both Europe and Japan, and were happy to impose a wide range of restrictions on resident aliens, naturalized citizens, and birthright citizens who shared a common ancestry with our Axis enemies.

The ruins of Dresden  By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-Z0309-310 / G. Beyer / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5371503

The ruins of Dresden

By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-Z0309-310 / G. Beyer / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5371503

So far, the West has resisted this. I suspect part of the reason is that once the shock of 9/11 wore off, it became clear that the kind of terrorism we see cannot possibly destroy any Western nation or its way of life. Asymmetric warfare lacks that kind of punch. For that to change, we would need to see at least an order of magnitude more attacks than we see now. From the data I have for the US, about 9 out of 10 terror plots are prevented by the police. It could be much worse.


The West’s Last Chance
Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations? 
By Tony Blankley
Regnery Publishing, 2005
232 Pages, US$27.95
ISBN 0-89526-015-8

 

This review appeared in the
Spring 2006 issue of
Comparative Civilizations Review

 

The West is in an existential crisis says Tony Blankley, onetime speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and current editorial page editor for the Washington Times. The crisis is predicated on the loss of morale that began with the First World War, but occasioned by a transnational jihad launched against the West by a coalition of Islamists, the most dangerous of whom are based among the burgeoning Muslim populations in Western lands, particularly in Europe. Blankley is a naturalized American citizen of English origin; he has a lively sense that Churchill’s Britain was more completely mobilized than the Axis powers ever were. He proposes that the only way to defeat the jihad is for Western nations to employ the same ruthlessness and thoroughness that the Allies employed during the last civilizational crisis of the Second World War.

The West’s Last Chance presents a short but plausible brief (Blankley is also a lawyer) that touches dispassionately on all the key points: the nature of Islamist ideology; the demographic weakness of Europe; the relationship of jihad to culture war. Most interesting of all, perhaps, is that, though Blankley is usually accounted a conservative, he is not an American nationalist; neither is he a realist or a neo-isolationist. For that matter, he also is not a neoconservative universalist. The book speaks from a perspective that is still quite rare: the political and cultural unit he seeks to protect is the West, which at the least includes both America and Europe:

“The binding, traditions of language, religion, history, politics, foods, styles of life, and love of individual freedom are sufficient to form a lasting alliance between Americans and Europeans, from Boise to Budapest, from Chicago to Seville. The historic force of the Islamic insurgency, if nothing else, should hammer us back into a common sword that we can call the West.”

Blankley does not purport to be an expert on the Middle East or on Islam, but he has a sophisticated understanding of the Islamist movement. Its most important features are new: 20th century products of an ideological reaction against Western modernity. Before the foundation of Israel and long before the United States became a dominant factor in Middle Eastern politics, this reaction achieved formulation in the writings of Sayyid Qutb as a jeremiad aimed specifically at the United States. Another way that Islamism departs from the traditions of Islamic societies is that jihad, understood in a military sense, has become a personal duty; traditionally, it was a collective enterprise that could be launched only by competent religious authority.

Most important of all, the jihadists have removed the West, and particularly Europe, from the category of Dar al-Suhl, the land of truce, to the category Dar al-Harb, the land of war. The distinction is not theoretical, since there are now large and growing Islamic communities throughout Europe. Partly because of internal resistance, partly because of the ideology of multiculturalism, these communities are not integrating to their host countries. Those countries, one and all, have fertility rates below the replacement level. The term “Eurabia” has been coined to describe the Europe that would exist in the second half of this century if these trends continue: Here is Blankley’s most extreme statement of the danger:

“In an odd way, we are in a situation similar to that which confronted the American Indians when European explorers landed on their shores. From North America to South America, the Indians vastly outnumbered the intruders. But the Europeans were not exactly an army, and warfare did not exactly break out. Instead, both sides seemed almost friendly and cooperative at times. Had the Europeans been seen as a threat, the Indians could have slaughtered them in short order. Even with their guns, there were only a few hundred Europeans, while there were hundreds of thousands of Indians.”

An Islamic Europe, even a Europe merely cowed into diplomatic and cultural submission by large Muslim minorities, would be as intolerable a threat to the United States as a Nazi or a Soviet Europe would have been. However, as Blankley notes, present trends almost never do continue. He fully expects the demographic and cultural trends he describes to reverse.

Blankley does not discuss civilizational dynamics in detail. He does, however, obviously favor some models over others. To begin with, he has little regard for any analysis that likens the current condition of the West to that of the later Roman Empire:

“The history of a nation, people, or a civilization is not linear; nor is it a predictable cycle in the sense that a nation arises, becomes vigorous and develops its classic form, then succumbs to excess, then decadence, and finally death. Such intellectual constructs are too neat. They are often historically contradicted. China has repeatedly emerged from decadence back to youthful vigor, as she is doing currently.”

Without citing him, Blankley embraces Toynbee’s model of broad historical trends that contextualize rather than eliminate free will: “Challenge and response, not continuity, describe the progress of human affairs.” However, the metahistorians whom Blankley most sounds like are Neil Strauss and William Howe, who devised a popular model of American history based on cycles of generations. In this book, the model is applied more broadly:

“The cycle [today] would seem to be completing itself as it so often does in human history. Victory [in 1945], delivered by certain values, yielded prosperity that permitted individualistic caprice, indulgence, overconfidence, excess, and a lack of a joint study permitted danger to arise again and calls for certain values to overcome. As the [baby] boomers were present at the inception of the prosperity and safety cycle, so they will be present at the end of the cycle in the beginning of the danger-driven renewal.”

By the end of the Second World War, Blankley explains, it seemed that the traditional patriotism and cultural pride of Western countries had been discredited. Even to suggest that one’s own society had features that deserved to be preserved was to risk the danger of being branded a chauvinist and a racist, in part for the excellent reason that chauvinists and racists did say things like that. To the extent that people thought about the birthrate at all, it was to devise ways of lowering it.

And so, with great good will, and with considerable success, the leading spirits of Europe set about to create a cosmopolitan society, a continent without borders, in which justice and plenty would be provided by rational, secular administration; and no culture would be preferred to another. All these plans rested on a flawed assumption, however:

“The linchpin of this entire gorgeous edifice -- now already 2/3 constructed -- was an ever-growing, assimilated, law-abiding Muslim European population. Only a steady tide of high-birthrate Muslims could fill the ever-expanding population gap caused by the dearth of indigenous European babies. Only with these young increasingly productive Muslim workers could Europe afford the social welfare system it had given itself. Only with these able and law-abiding workers could Europe economically compete with America and Asia in the 21st century and beyond.”

This is not going to happen. Neither, probably, will Eurabia happen. One of two things will stop it. Western elites might understand the magnitude of their peril and take the sort of steps to meet it that Blankley discusses in the second half of his book. The other possibility is that native European populations will take matters into their own hands, leading to an age of ethnic cleansing and civil war.

According to Blankley, 2004 was the decisive year. The slaughter of the school children in Beslan; the train-bombings in Madrid; and most of all, the gruesome murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh: these events demonstrated to high and low alike that universalist Europe had failed. Blankley gives hopeful coverage to evidence that elite opinion, and even fashionable opinion, is turning against the ideology of multiculturalism. Members of the Green parties, for instance, have taken to demonstrating against the traditional celebration of the feast of Eid al-Adha, because it involves the slaughter of lambs and goats. Even the French establishment, so quick to cater to supposed Muslim sentiment in diplomatic matters, now seems determined to hold fast against the intrusion of Islam into the public square, lest the French tradition of laicism be undermined.

This brings us to the question of religion in the West, and what role it might play in defeating the Islamist threat. At one point, Blankley states, “The West needs to recover its fighting faith.” That is plausible, but Blankley’s treatment of the matter recalls the apocryphal saying of Dwight Eisenhower that American society rested on a strong religious faith and he did not give a damn which one it was.

Blankley notes the statistical correlation between high levels of religious practice and those cultural traits that he believes the West needs to survive, such as fertility rates above the replacement level, patriotism, and a capacity for moral outrage. He also observes that the widely noted difference between America and Europe in the level of religious belief is probably not as great as is generally thought. The real difference is that public agnosticism is expected among elites in much of Europe (one thinks of Prime Minister Blair skulking off to Catholic Mass when no one is looking), whereas a show of piety is good form most of the United States. He points out that some of the strongest opposition to Islamicism now comes from secularists. On the other hand, he also points out that secularism is a historical anomaly, and may not be sustainable in any case.

There are grounds for expecting a religious revival, he says. If, as seems likely, the immediate future resembles the troubled years between 1914 and 1945, then the sheer growth in hardship could drive people to spiritual comfort. He also cites, without evaluation, some speculation by neurologists that religion may be hardwired into the brain, and so will always reassert itself. Frankly, if this the kind of consideration comes to underlie the Western assessment of the value of religion, then it seems to me that the chance for a general revival is nil. Faith defines need. A faith that is invoked to serve a need is really just a Sorelian myth.

Whatever the spiritual state of the West, hardships there will certainly be, many of them necessarily self-imposed. We are entering an era, he suggests, in which economic efficiency will not be the governing criterion in international relations:

“Eventually it will dawn on Western leaders and public opinion that it would be safer to keep some distance between the West and Islam. Everything from Internet connections to immigration, to tourism, to business, to trade will be more carefully controlled if not partially disconnected. Each restraint on the free flow of people, material, and words will act to marginally damage our economies.”

Even more important, the liberal West must recognize that, in Oliver Wendell Holmes’s words, “The Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact,” and that survival is the first right:

“It is increasingly likely that such a threat cannot be defeated while the West continues to adhere to its deeply held values -- as it currently understands them -- of tolerance, the right to privacy, the right even to advocate sedition, and the right to equal protection under the law. The day is upon us when the West will have to decide which it values more: granting these rights and tolerance to those who wish to destroy us, or the survival of Western civilization. And this is another reason the West has been slow to react -- because reacting violates its own values.”

Blankley recalls at length just how willing the Allied governments during World War II were willing to subject classes of people to special security measures. The internment of American citizens of Japanese origin is the best-known example, but even larger numbers of other ethnic groups were affected. Many were forced to move or sell their property. Aliens from enemy countries were often deported; naturalized citizens sometimes lost their citizenship. Blankley recites this history without deploring it. The beginning of wisdom, he suggests, is precisely to embrace the practice of ethnic profiling.

Neither can the governments of the West, and particularly the government of the United States, afford any longer to be equally tolerant of all religions. He recalls a Supreme Court decision from 1940 that approved the expulsion of the children of religious sectarians from school because the children refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. (Note that this was before the Pledge contained the words “under God,” the occasion of current legal attacks on the Pledge.) The Court was not impressed by the fact that the families of the children belonged to a denomination that refused to swear allegiance to any secular government. For the Court, the government was well within its rights in insisting that schools instill loyalty and a sense of national unity among school children. If Blankley has his way, government will soon again insist on no less.

The book makes other proposals, among the least extreme of which is that serious security measures cannot be implemented without the creation of a national identity card. That would be part of a larger process of internal surveillance that would include taking effective control of the borders. Presumably, the need to track aliens in the country would also rule out a guest-worker program of any great size. The most conceptually interesting proposal, however, is for a declaration of war.

Blankley does not often criticize the Bush Administration in detail, but he deplores its failure to articulate what the war is about. It’s not a war on terror. It’s not a war on Islam. It’s a war on Islamists who seek to subvert the governments of the West and coerce their policies through terror. A declaration of war would clarify the matter. It would also allow the sort of emergency regime that obtained during the 20th century world wars to take effect. Blankley is aware that liberty would not prosper if the measures he is proposing became normal. That is why he suggests that the declaration of war contain a sunset provision. Congress might consider every two years, for instance, whether to renew the declaration. That would be oversight enough.

As we saw at the beginning of this review, the project that Blankley proposes is by no means a conservative enterprise. In effect, he is laying the foundation for a new patriotism, to the nation of the West, on whose survival all the historical patriotisms of France and Holland and Germany and America depend. This is a real conceptual problem with the book: if a revival of patriotism is one of the things that are necessary to fight off the Islamist challenge, then how can one characterize the campaign in terms of the defense of the West as a whole? Nonetheless, we see here an outline of a formidable engine, one that could, conceivably, fulfill the function for which it was designed. The one great deficiency is that the engine still lacks the fuel of fear that is necessary to make it go. Blankley is aware of that, but does not doubt that events will supply it. After all, last year the murder of a single Dutch filmmaker (and a rather disreputable one at that) wonderfully concentrated the mind of all Europe. What might a serious string of suicide bombings do, much less a manmade plague, or a nuke?

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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Assassins Creed I and II Videogame Review

Assassin's Creed CoverThe advantages to reviewing videogames years after they come out are that you can pick them up really cheap, and you can talk about the endings without worrying about spoiling it for anyone. I was probably the last person in the world to play Assassin's Creed.

I was missing a lot. The Assassin's Creed games are pretty fun. This is the freerunning sandbox game. I think the freerunning is really the best part of the experience. After I play these games I'm always looking for a way to climb up the buildings I pass by. The stealth and escape mechanics are pretty good. The combat, only fair. Honestly I found the combat generally boring: I got tired of the killing. In the first game, there were freelance missions to assassinate soldiers who were doing what soldiers have always done to conquered peoples: rape and pillage. This in and of itself wasn't that bad, but you usually attracted a lot of attention on these missions, and you ended up killing three times the number of men you started out to. This always gave me pause, the first set of soldiers were obviously guilty, but their buddies who rallied to their aid could potentially have been innocent.

These games taught me why assassination is an immoral way of conducting warfare. It seems like the greater good, you only kill the really really bad guy, and everything is better. However, in just war theory, the object of war is to destroy the enemy's will to fight, not to destroy the enemy. Supreme excellence in warfare consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without having to fight. If the enemy asks for quarter, you have to give it to him. For an assassin, however, the intent is only to kill. If the enemy asks for mercy, you kill him anyway. It is intrinsically immoral because the intent is always wrong. A soldier, as a soldier, can show mercy, but an assassin never can.

There is a great deal of interesting history in the background. The first Assassin's Creed is set during the Third Crusade, and it features Richard the Lionhearted and Saladin. The Assassin's themselves were also real historical actors in the Middle East of the time. This plot element caused a bit of a stir, because the Assassins are still around, although they call themselves something else now. This spoiled an attempt to novelize the game because the Aga Khan told the publisher it was disrespectful to his people.

Accordingly, in subsequent games, the Muslim aspect was eliminated and we got more of the tinfoil hat conspiracy theories, which are definitely the worst part of the experience. I like secret histories as much as the next guy, but the storyline here is Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods with parkour. There is at least some good historical background here that can provide familiarity with key times in history. All the usual warnings about getting your historical knowledge from popular entertainment apply. The feel of the cities is very good, and the historical and architectural tidbits the second game provides when you pass by landmarks in Italy are fascinating.

These were fun games, but they have zero replay value. The sandbox elements are really good. The rest, disappointing. However, how many games have their final boss fight as a fistfight with the Pope?

My other videogame reviews